Category Archives: Achdus

New program in Chicago helps families make their Shabbos tables more meaningful

Nourishing the tableA new initiative is starting on Shabbos between Chanukah and Pesach, as families throughout Chicagoland are committing to spend the next few months dedicated to adding renewed meaning to their Shabbos table.  Please click on this link (it takes less than one minute to sign up) to receive materials in the mail this week to start enhancing your Shabbat table experience! This program is being sponsored by the Menora family for sponsoring this initiative in memory of Rikki & Racheli Menora z”l.

Partner Organizations:
Congregation KINS
Congregation KJBS
Congregation Or Torah
Kehilat Chovevei Tzion
Ida Crown Jewish Academy
Midwest NCSY
YU Torah Mitzion Kollel


After the Chicago Siyum HaShas

Location of the Chicago Siyum HaShas

It’s been almost a week since the Chicago Siyum HaShas event. I held off on posting right way, because I was curious if the excitement of the celebration that I felt, along with my 12 yr old son, was just just a flash of light or something more lasting. Just that fact that the theater, which holds 4,400 people was pretty much sold out still blows my mind.
Looking back, there were a few things that I viewed as highlights.
Organization: The fact that months of planning and coordinating went into making the event run smoothly was evident. The Agudath Israel did an amazing job from start to finish. Emails were sent describing in detail where to park, which entrances to use, information about snacks for purchase prior to the event, etc. Countless committee chairs, volunteers and staff spent countless hours helping. It was also planned that there was one unified mincha and maariv.
Hakoras HaTov: The speakers at the Chicago event included HaRav Shmuel Fuerst (who gave Dvrei Praicha), a video of HaRav Shmuel Kamentsky (which was broadcasted life from MetLife), HaRav Uren Reich (who gave Dvrei Chizuk), HaRosh Yeshiva Avrohom Chaim Levin (who made the Siyum), Rav Gedaliah Dov Shwartz (who made Hascholas HaShas), and Rav Yissocher Frand (whose address was broadcasted live, as well). Each of the Rabbonim made specific mention of the Hakoras HaTov that must be given to the wife and children of those who are involved in Daf Yomi.
Enertainment: After the Siyum we were treated to a men’s choir made up of people from across the community, truly representing Klal Yisrael. Their voices blending together making harmony gave all who listened a sample of what true achdus is all about. They were accompanied by HaTav Orchastra. Many of us broke into dancing and, I admit, it was very cool dancing with people I didn’t even know celebrating the greatness of Torah. I will also say that the two videos we say, “Daf through the Decades” and “Heroes of the Daf” were very moving.
A physical connection to Daf Yomi: A touching moment, for me, in Chicago was when HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz (Av Beis Din for the RCA and the cRc) was given the kavod of saying the beginning of Gemara Berachos. He held up and used a gemara he received for his Bar Mitzvah. It was printed in Petrakov, where Rav Meir Shapiro was Rav in 1931, the year of the first Siyum HaShas…I got chills. That is totally amazing, because it’s something physical that make the connection real for all of us.
Rabbi Frand: As always, he was wonderful. It was nice, for the Chicago people. that he spoke so much about Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l. That line at then of his address, “Beyond your reach is really within your grasp” was golden. Rav Frand’s address was a live feed. I happened to tweet that line after he said it and saw that a friend at the NY Siyum tweeted the same thing 14 seconds before me. I was so inspired, that I created (thanks to a google search and a little background in graphic design from the mid-1990s) the image below. I use it as a lock-screen for my phone. Every time I use my phone it reminds me to keep on going a little further than I think I can. Great mussar for me.
My wife mentioned to me a week and a half before the Siyum that we have been married for 15 years and had I been “doing” Daf Yomi this could have been my second Siyum HaShas. She only meant it as a comment, but I took it to heart and, bli neder, I have committed to learning Daf Yomi in a shiur (so far I have hit both morning and evening shiurim every day) in hope of being a participant and not just an observer at the next Siyum HaShas.
In the short time that I’ve been learning Daf Yomi I have noticed two very interesting things about myself. Firstly, I am constantly thinking ahead about my schedule for the upcoming days and what shiur I will attend (BH we have a multitude of shiuim and I am still trying to find a good time and magid shiur to attach myself with). Secondly, I have felt much more creative and energized that I have in years. I won’t chalk it up completely to the koach of limud Torah, but it is probably more due to the residual wave of excitement of starting something new.
Current lock-screen, optimized for Android and iPhone.  Please feel free to use it.

Goldfish and good times

Photo from here
Growing up as a “traditional” Jew, Purim was always fun. Mostly because of the potential to win a goldfish and see how long they would live. My congregation’s Purim carnival was not only fun (even when I had to help run it as an NCSYer), but brought our members out of the sanctuary and the social hall and down into the basement. Aside from throwing ping pong balls into cups filled with goldfish, we played musical chairs, the fishing for a prize game, and if you had enough tickets you could put someone in “jail”. There were other games too, but these come to mind. The whole “Shaloch Manos” thing was pretty much confined to Sunday and Hebrew School.  It, for sure, wasn’t on our family’s radar.  All in all, it was a fun holiday when I was growing up.  Good time…good times.
I wax nostalgic and remember being surrounded by the people my family was close with as we celebrated what I understood as a victory for the Jews.  The feeling of being part of a community was overpowering.  Looking back now, it was a feeling of achdus.  Maybe because we were a massive minority in Wichita, KS, but we had such pride (especially on Purim) about being Jewish.    
I think about this now, as an adult, because the value of having fun in Judaism is something that I that I feel is important.  The mitzvos ha yom all involve connecting with others and giving, but we have to make it fun. It’s often easy to focus on our costumes, d’vrai Torah, and rushing around assemble and then deliver Shaloch Manos.  I know that sometimes I’m running around so much that I forget the simcha shel mitzvah and the simchas ha chaim.  Those are two things are worth giving over to others on Purim.

Rav Frand on the how to disagree and the paradigm of unity

In Rav Frand’s Teshuva drasha for this year (recorded live in Los Angeles on the first night of Selichos and available for purchase here), he discussed the need for unity on Yom Kippur and gave over an amazing story about Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld 

and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kookwho both had very different ways of viewing both the state of Israel (at the time called Palestine), the Jews who lived there, and secular education.

Rav Frand said:

When Rav Kook and Rav Sonnenfeld went to the little communities, the little kubutzim up in the north, where they [the residents] ate chazair treif, they went together to bring people back to Yiddishkeit.  Baalei Machloches- they held each other were wrong, but they worked together.  They disagreed without being disagreeable and we have not learned to do that.  When we disagree, you’re invalid, not entitled to your opinion.  Their vehement machloches never devolved in animosity.


You know, Rav Kook and Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld were once invited to a bris.  Rav Yosef Chaim was to be the mohel and Rav Kook was supposed to be the zandek and they got to the shul at the same time.  Rav Yosef Chaim insisted that Rav Kook go in first, because he was a cohen.  Rav Kook insisted that Rav Yosef Chaim should go in, because he was a bigger person.  And they stood at the door frozen, they wouldn’t go until Rav Kook noticed that it was a double door and the left portion of the door was locked.  He reached in beside and pulled down the thing and they opened both doors simultaneously and they went in together.  That’s the paradigm [to how we should behave].

The entire shiur, Teshuva 2011 – Conflict Resolution: Within Our Community and Within Ourselves, is available for purchase and downloading on the Yad Yechiel website.

Any inaccuracies in this transcription are mine.  This is posted in zechus of a refuah shelayma for Reuven ben Tova Chaya and Miriam Orit bas Devorah. 

Rav Schwab quote from "These and Those"

Over Shabbos I had an opportunity to re-read the essay know as “These and Those” aka “E’ilu v’Eilu”, published in SELECTED ESSAYS. Several sentences that made up paragraph blew me away and then after letting a close friend browse through the sefer, he also pointed out the quote to me (with me even bringing up the quote).

He who is strong in his conviction is even strengthened by the clear exposition of the opposite viewpoint. He who is strong in his conviction will welcome an open discussion based on mutual respect for the opponent’s opinion. Mutual intolerance betrays mutual weakness. Only he who is fully convinced can afford to be fully tolerant towards his opponent and yet remain adamant and stand his ground.

As I think about how easily we, as an Am Kodesh, can draw lines in the sand and fracture our Achdus it’s really a miracle that we, as one people, were able to receive the Torah.

Thoughts on the Superbowl

The drawing above of a Bears helmet was done by an outsanding 7 year old boy currently in first grade, my son.

If I were a sports fan, in theory, I would be torn about the upcoming game between the Colts and the Bears. I dedicated almost eight years of my life to the Jewish community of Indianapolis. I, now, currently reside in Chicago. For me, it really doesn’t matter who wins… I’ve never been too into sports.

For my son, well, it’s a different story altogether. His love of the Bears has grown over the past year. He has ‘subliminally’ been showing his team pride over the past few weeks with his drawings and colorings of the weekly parsha. First it was Yosef’s me’il that was colored blue and orange. Then it was a Bears blanket that covered Paro as he slept and dreamed. Most recently it was a picture of two Jewish slaves working in Egypt, wearing Bears jerseys.

As I said, I’ve never been too into sports. But I keep up with the scores, watch some of the games with him (and let him explain things to me) and try to bond with him. It’s important to show interest in what our kids are interested in. My neighbor is a huge Chicago sports fan (Sox not Cubs). I have observed the special bond he has with his oldest child when it comes to sports. I know that I cannot make myself into a sports fanatic, but I try to use things like “da Bears” as a way of bonding with my son. My son is wise to me. He knows that I’m not as into it as other dads, but he’s cool with it. He sees that I make the effort and I hope there is something to be said for that.

An observation: In a city devided by baseball like Chicago it’s nice to see people rally behind one common goal…the Bears. There is a lot that I take away from such unity, even on a gachmius level.

Note: I do enjoy watching the XGames!

The truth within the joke

Two weeks ago my 7 year old told me the following joke that he had heard in school.
“What did the banana say to the apple?”
“I don’t know,” I replied
“Nothing. Fruit can’t speak”, my son answered.

That same day the Agudah Israel convention spoiler was published in the Yated concerning blogs and attacks on Daas Torah.
That night I thought about the joke my son told me. He’s right, fruit can’t speak. However, people can.

Several bloggers quickly posting about the Agudah’s statement about certain types of blogs. I chose a different route. I sent an email that night to an Agudath employee and the next morning I had a reply waiting for me in my email’s inbox.

Fruit can’t speak. People can.

Why I recommend saying "Good Shabbos"

I lead, what I think of, as a pretty regular life. So when something singular happens, it’s pretty exciting for me. As common in most communities and with groups of friends, when someone has a baby people start offering to make meals for that family (in this case, my family).

Last motzei Shabbos we got a call from our friend who was coordinating meals for us. It seems that a couple wanted to do a chessed and give us a meal. The problem was that we had no clue who they were. We didn’t recognize their names nor did our kids have anyone with the same list name in their classses. Later that night we found out the wife’s maiden name, and she claimed that we were her former NCSY advisors. I still wasn’t sure who it could be. For four days I was trying to figure out who these people were. I did know someone by the wife’s maiden name, but different first name. Last night, the mystery was solved. My wife opened the door when our guest came (I was still at work) and it was all revealed…

I try to be a friendly person, so as I walk to/from shul Shabbos morning I always say “Good Shabbos” to people I see. It makes no difference if I know them or not. As it happens, in Chicago, people say “Good Shabbos” back, too.

Apparently last Shabbos I said “Good Shabbos” to this “former NCSYer” and as she told my wife, when she got down the block she realized who I was. She figured that I was in town for a chassuna. Then she was speaking to a friend and our name came up also. Then she saw a birth announcement in one of the community emails. All of this happened over Shabbos.

It turns out that she was the NCSYer I was thinking of (it’s been almost 10 years since I’ve heard her name), but she’s going by a slightly different name these days. She and her husband moved here two years ago. What a way to reconnect with someone and all from saying, “Good Shabbos”. Try saying it, you, too, might end up with a great story of hashgacha pratis.